The world of oral care has for a number of years been a steady ship, predictable in its flavor requirements, heavily reliant on mint oils and ingredients with a similar odor profile. Much of the innovation in the area came in the way of active ingredients outside of the flavor, and flavor innovation itself was limited. More recently, however, it looks like the landscape is changing.
The Challenge of Flavor
In the world of oral care, as far as flavor is concerned, mint is king. The demand of the consumer to feel fresh and clean after brushing or rinsing is clear, however within the flavor industry it can lead to some challenges. For example, the Indian mint market is one of the major areas which the variety of mint sources and its derivatives comes from. It is the largest producer of Mentha arvensis oil and by-products such as menthol, de-mentholated Oils (DMO) and other mints ingredients, but it is not without its internal challenges. Crop variations in size and quality can cause issues to the stability of the supply chain within the flavor world. For example, in areas of production in Uttar Pradesh such as Sambhal, Chandausi and Rampur, the 2017 crop size was short by approximately 50-60% over 2016 levels. Even with inventory carried over from previous crops, the expectation for Q1-Q2 2018 was a shortage in DMO of 15-20%, leading to the inevitable price rises. Even within calendar years when you may perhaps expect to see some stability we see significant fluctuations of pricing (see F-1).
Despite the perception that the world of mint and oral care has always been predictable and boring, in hindsight it is this area which really led the development of chemesthetic ingredients. Work in the 1970s allowed Wilkinson Sword to develop materials which had little to no odor but imparted similar physiological cooling effects to menthol. These materials imparted cooling without menthol’s characteristic peppermint odor and without the undesirable burn or astringency that high levels of menthol would impart. A number of companies have developed a variety of cooling materials following this research, with Takasago manufacturing under the Sensates brand. These new materials then led to flavors being developed beyond the previous one-dimensional mint profiles, which had previously been created.
The impression of fresh and clean is one which is critical to impart within an oral care flavor. After all, the consumer uses toothpaste or mouthwash to improve their oral health, and there’s not much point in using an oral care product which leaves the mouth feeling unclean! For a number of years, coolant innovation has created materials which have increasing strength and longevity, which add to the fresh, clean feeling an oral care product needs to impart. However, is there a point where this all becomes too much, and adding in more coolant simply defeats the purpose we are trying to achieve?
The challenge comes around just what is fresh and clean in the consumer’s mind. Describing such abstract concepts is not easy, and there is also the challenge of cultural differences to take into account. Further research in chemesthetic ingredients has seen the development of materials which impart sensations such as warming and tingling. It is the combination of these different chemesthetic sensations which are vitally important to the consumer’s appreciation and act as significant sensory cues, particularly in oral care. In short, the right combination of chemesthetic ingredients can have a huge influence on flavor perception and on the consumer experience.
Chemesthetic ingredients also have other advantages. As well as imparting cooling, warming and tingling and adding an extra dimension to a flavor they can impart additional effects. Cooling materials can increase the impression of alcohol perception in an alcohol-free mouthwash and effect, which is particularly important in areas of the world where it is desirable to have formulations that do not contain alcohol or in pediatric applications.
In addition, chemesthetic materials can improve or increase salivation in a flavor. Not only is this important for the potentiation and perception of the flavor, but it is also important in oral care for people suffering from dry mouth where consumers require saliva stimulating solutions as part of their oral care product. Flavor formulations such as Takasago’s Intensatesb and Firmenich’s NovaSensec flavor systems stimulate the trigeminal nerve and deliver increased salivation. These types of materials can also be applied to personal healthcare products, where an active ingredient can retard salivation, but an appropriately formulated flavor can counteract this and provide the salivation needed to increase consumer acceptance and enjoyment.
Interestingly, a large amount of chemesthetic ingredients which impart these effects are synthetic. It seems that, to the oral care consumer, natural doesn’t have a strong correlation with the health benefits that are being gained from the product and they are more than happy to have their benefits delivered to them from an artificial ingredient. Is this because the consumer believes that there is less distance between toothpaste and mouthwash as a product and pharmaceutical products, and that the tangible benefits they are getting from using the product are better delivered from something which has been specifically designed to perform that function, rather than a naturally occurring product which just happens to have a similar effect by chance?
Mint is King
It’s no surprise to learn that in terms of flavor profiles mint and mint variants are the most popular with consumers. Things are changing however. Consumers are willing to try, even if in some cases for a short period, other flavor profiles just as long as it fits into their definition of clean and fresh. As we can see from F-2 and F-3, mint flavors make up over 60% of new toothpaste and almost 70% of new mouthwash launches in 2016-17. There is however a growing breadth of flavors which people are willing to try, from the fun and fruity flavors, which are predominantly to be found in children's products, to the more regional specific tea and green tea-flavored products.
Fresh Breath Beyond Just the Flavor
The impression of clean and fresh which is imparted by the flavor profile can be built upon. While flavor profiles such as mint and citrus have the relatively short-term effect of masking oral malodors, they do not necessarily eliminate them. Oral malodors can be relatively easily characterized and the chemical components creating the undesirable whiff can be therefore identified. Technologies which can then chemically neutralize these unwanted smells will be added to the formulation. Formulation challenges come in gaining regulatory approval for active ingredients outside of the flavor system, however, there are materials which exist that can be delivered from within the flavor formulation. An example of this is Takasago’s Transatakd system which can eliminate a number of different odors including morning breath,1 coffee breath and garlic/onion breath (see F-5). This allows the consumer to not only feel clean and fresh but have the confidence that there is an actual additional benefit to the flavor of their oral care product.
Other developing technologies such as those, which can target oral bacteria and microbes, are also being established. While these are in the early stages of their development, work utilizing synergistic activity between certain combinations of aroma chemicals has afforded interesting results. It is again worth noting that the focus is on delivering a proven effect from a synthesized material rather than linking the perception of a health benefit to the natural status of a molecule.
It all Depends on the Mood I’m In
Mood activation has also been an area of exploration for oral care companies. Reflecting on the times of day when the majority of consumers undertake their oral care routines, there have been a number of day or night oral care products which have been launched. Products have been released that contain honey, lavender and chamomile either as minor ingredients or as recognizable components of their flavor profile claim to invigorate or relax.
Such soft claims are commonplace, however, there is also work underway to determine the ability of flavors to actually influence the mood of consumers. Considering that a significant amount of flavor perception is from retronasal interaction we should be able to determine the effectiveness of odor on brain activity. In addition, we should be able to measure the effect of odor or taste on salivatory alpha amylase and salivatory cortisol levels both of which measure the levels of stress a subject is under. It is now possible to measure responses to flavor systems that give tangible results on whether a flavor is stimulating or relaxing. These results will allow brands to be able to make more realistic claims to consumers rather than relying soft claims based on association.
The Hidden Innovation Space
From a distance, oral care continues to appear to be a steady and slow-moving area in the flavor world. Scratch the surface and it’s clear that the opposite is true. Continued innovation in the segment has in the past allowed flavorists to add further dimensions to the flavor itself, and these chemesthetic effects can be seen in other application areas in flavors beyond mint. Current innovation now allows flavorists to deliver tangible benefits from within the flavor to the consumers without having to sacrifice consumer enjoyment or appreciation.